The reactions from the autism community in regards to ABC’s latest hit series The Good Doctor are divisive at best. As someone who was diagnosed with Asperger’s, I want to give my own two cents on this show.
I don’t usually watch medical dramas. The only medical-themed show I ever watched was Scrubs and one episode of House. So no, I’m not gonna compare this show to House. Sorry, Hugh Laurie fans.
What I will say is that I think the character of Shaun is a great positive portrayal of someone on the autism spectrum. And while I understand that the character of Shaun Murphy might be better portrayed by someone who is actually on the autism spectrum, I have to give props to Freddie Highmore for all the work he does into making Shaun Murphy into a believable person and less like Rain Man. In the first episode, I immediately related to the last scene, when Shaun asked his colleague, Claire, about when exactly she was lying to him since her behavior towards him changed from not trusting him to trying to be his friend.
I think this show has a great supporting cast as well. Dr. Glassman is great as the well-meaning mentor and “father figure” to Shaun, but his approach is a bit too “helicopter parent.” Dr. Andrews is so far my least favorite character. His ambitions are clear, but he’s inconsiderate and unrealistic in the way he looks at Shaun, especially in the most recent episode. I’m not saying that Shaun should get any special treatment, but given that Shaun doesn’t drive and that recently, he had a very public mental breakdown, some leeway should be given for his frequent tardies and his recent absence.
Dr. Claire Brown reminds me a lot of Carla from Scrubs. Half the internet ships her with Shaun, but I see her as more of a sister-type, trying to understand Shaun without talking down to him. The reason I don’t ship Shaun with Claire is because Claire is already sleeping with Dr. Kalu and is attracted to Dr. Melendez. Speaking of, these two doctors are honestly the more realistic types of ally/antagonists compared to Dr. Andrews. Dr. Melendez is a jerk, but it’s mostly because he’s task-oriented and focused on getting the job done as best as he can. Dr. Kalu is the opportunist “renegade” who isn’t afraid to think outside the box, but he can be a bit too headstrong and he’s not always a good friend to Shaun.
One character who does turn out to be a good friend for Shaun is Lea, the girl next door. (Side note: Dear writers, do any of you own a gaming system? The meet cute could’ve worked if she was playing XBox and needed double As. Please keep that in mind, thank you very much.) Aside from Claire, Lea is the only major character who doesn’t talk down to Shaun or acts like a helicopter parent. Whether she’s the best influence is up for debate, given the most recent episode, but daredevil driving antics aside, I like her. She treats Shaun like any other normal human being, challenging him and actually listening to him, but in a way that he feels comfortable with.
Back to Shaun, though. I love that he is open to learning about social interaction. I love that he can handle himself when it comes to surgery and handling chaotic situations like an emergency room triage (see episode “Not Fake”). His best moments with patient interaction can be seen in “Point Three Percent,” “22 Steps,” and “Sacrifice.” The emotional meltdown he had in “Sacrifice” was also very realistic.
If you’re wondering, by the way, why Shaun can handle an emergency room triage, with all the sirens and voices talking over each other, but not handle trying to stand up to Glassman about going to therapy, it’s my personal theory that Shaun is INTP. He can compartmentalize stuff that happens to him, but it also includes not talking about what he wants outside of simple, material things. Granted, the meltdown is partially Glassman’s fault because instead of just trusting that Shaun handled the attempted robbbery, he keeps trying to find people who can take care of Shaun. It’s well-meant, but inconsiderate.
There are some things about Shaun that surprise me, however. I’m surprised that Shaun has never met someone with autism aside from himself. Granted, I had the privilege of going to a support group with other people on the autism spectrum.
What I can’t imagine, however, is that Shaun never really listened to music. It would be believable if he doesn’t like mainstream music, but I can’t imagine that Dr. Glassman didn’t look into the connection between music therapy and autism if he was really set on helping Shaun out. I do buy, however, that Shaun remembers things by smell. Sensory awareness is very much tied to having autism, especially tying memories to certain things. For me, I remember visual stuff: books I read, various movies/tv shows/web videos I watched. I’m glad that Lea introduced music into Shaun’s life.
The most recent episode, by the way, was awesome as it was crazy. The impulsive road trip, along with the bit of reckless driving and subsequent drinking, would probably scare any parent, but resonates with anyone who just wanted to get away from it all during a bad time. I know I’ve had that desire in the past to just go somewhere after something bad happened. I’ll admit that the driving part was definitely dangerous, but I’m just glad nobody got hurt. Mostly, I’m glad that Shaun finally found someone he could love. Lea might be a bit of the “manic pixie dream girl,” but she’s encouraging Shaun to live for himself.
I will give my overall thoughts of The Good Doctor once the first season ends. For now, I really, really like this show and can’t wait to see what happens next!